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Original artwork by Meryl Quinn Kernell

Questions for the State Department

N.M. Campbell
Flash • Our Bodies, Our Rights: Special Issue

In a leafy capital abroad, Gertrude stretched her manicured hand towards her phone. “Hello, you have reached the Consulate General Citizen Services. How may I help you?”

A wavering voice replied, “I am living overseas and I just had a stillbirth on my living room floor.”

An efficient worker, the woman quickly found her red folder and flipped to the script. “Yes, ma’am. Did you file a SD-FCP?”

“Um, I’m sorry? A FCP?”

“Yes, ma’am, a Foreign Conception Passport? For the person you’re reporting? Are you reporting his or her death?” Gertrude cradled the receiver under her chin to start taking notes, spitting away her one stray hair.

“Um, I’m not sure? I’m bleeding quite a bit, and I was calling in because this is a medical emergency…”

“Yes, but there are two of our citizens involved. Apparently you have neglected to acknowledge the existence of one.”

“I was thirty weeks along, I surely noticed.”

Gertrude snorted, “But you did not provide notice. This is a failure to protect. Sheer negligence!”

“Negligence, huh? My doctor is on vacation.” The woman at the other end of the line gasped for air. She remembered her classes and panted while silently screaming through another contraction, even though a rigid lump had already fallen between her legs. The towel that caught these remnants of a dream was once charcoal gray. Already swirling with tissue, it was brightened by a new slick of red and black. The palette resembled a gas station puddle after a downpour that pushed through a sandstorm.

“Ma’am, are you there? Ma’am? I need your name and passport number—the only one you two have.”

After a less pregnant pause, the woman stammered, “And there’s a storm, and I’m alone, and my husband is away on business, and…”

Gertrude tutted. “Well, at least you are married. Do you have his passport number, too?” 

After a slap of energy, the woman’s voice fulminated. “Help me. I don’t speak the local language well. Please.”

“We must send the authorities. What is your address?”

The line went dead, and Gertrude slumped in her chair. She looked out the window, sighing. The leaves turned as the skies darkened over the Capitol. Pursing her lips, she gazed upon her swans. The overly protective duo shielded their new cygnet from the brusk wind that had suddenly changed. She smiled.

Flipping her chair back to her desk, Gertrude announced, “Mabel, we have another one. I think she hung up. Did you track the address?”

“No, Gertie, you didn’t keep her talking long enough. She triangulated down south somewhere. Eh, there is quite a tempest there right now. Why risk a soldier for this?”

“Mabel! They are no longer soldiers, they are agents. We need to report this.” Gertrude leapt from her chair, pulled her twin-set a little closer, and found the missing persons protocol on the bookshelf.

Mabel typed her notes into the dossier. “Of course. That’s what we do.” 

Gertrude and Mabel filed their reports.